Nigeria

Oyo Empire

The Oyo Empire (1400-1830s) was a powerful Yoruba polity in what is today southwestern Nigeria. Situated in an ideal geographic location between the Volta and Niger River, the Oyo Empire became an important trade center. Its foundation myth draws upon Yoruba religious beliefs and holds sacred the original settlement of Ile-Ife, which continues to be upheld as the creation site for the Yoruba people with significance to local religious practitioners as well as members of...

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The Transatlantic Slave Trade

The Transatlantic Slave Trade began in the late 15th century in Nigeria. By 1471, Portuguese navigators hoping to tap the fabled Saharan gold trade had reconnoitered the West African coast as far as the Niger Delta, and traded European commodities for local crafts as well as slaves, the latter which turned out to be highly lucrative. In the early stages, Europeans captured Nigerians in raids on coastal communities, but as the demand grew they relied on slaves to be supplied by local rulers, traders, and the military aristocracy, providing these agents with rum, guns, horses,...

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Ken Saro-Wiwa

Ken Saro-Wiwa was a prominent Ogoni environmental activist in Nigeria’s southern delta region, hanged in 1995 by the Sani Abacha government on exaggerated charges along with eight other activists. Saro-Wiwa was a co-founder of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), which directly challenged the rise of international oil corporations in the delta—particularly Shell—and the expansive corruption that oil wealth facilitated.

MOSOP called for $10 billion for royalties and compensation from Shell for the Ogoni land where they drilled, for the environmental destruction...

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Olusegun Obasanjo

Olusegun Obasanjo (b. 1937) is a former President of Nigeria (1999-2007) and a military leader who handed power to a civilian government in 1979. He led the commando unit against Biafran secessionists during the Nigerian Civil War that received the Biafrans’ surrender. Obasanjo is an Evangelical Christian of Yoruba descent (and a former...

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The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons

The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons was a nationalist political party founded by Sir Herbert Macaulay and Nnamde Azikiwe, and dominated Nigerian politics until the mid-1930s. After 1951, the NCNC became largely identified with Igbo interests following the inclusion of the Igbo State Union. In 1963, Azikiwe, an Igbo himself, became the first president of independent Nigeria.

The NCNC was regarded critically by other Nigerian...

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The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is one of the most prominent of a multitude of militant organizations dedicated to crippling oil production in the Niger Delta region.  It is made up of members of the Ijaw who charge the government and foreign oil companies with promoting immense economic disparities, corruption, and environmental degradation. MEND’s tactics include kidnapping and ransoming oil workers, staging armed attacks on production sites, pipeline destruction, killing Nigerian police officers, and siphoning oil to sell on the illegal market.

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The Maitatsine Riots

The Maitatsine riots were a series of violent uprisings instigated by Islamist militants in northern Nigeria between 1980 and 1985 and represented northern Nigeria’s first major wave of religiously-inspired violence. The riots prompted immense ethnoreligious discord between Muslims and Christians in years to come.

The Maitatsine movement was led by Muhammadu Marwa (d. 1980), a Cameroonian residing in Kano who opposed the Nigerian state (Maitatsine is a Hausa term for “He who damns,” referring to Marwa). He referred to himself as a prophet—to the extent that one account...

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Jama'tu Nasril Islam

The Jama’tu Nasril Islam (“Group for the Victory of Islam”) was founded in 1962 by a coalition of Muslim leaders in northern Nigeria, and served as an umbrella organization for a variety of Muslim groups and interests. The goal of the organization was to unify northern Muslims and to promote their interests in the wake of independence and the formation of the first Nigerian Republic. Following the assassination of Ahmadu Bello, a prominent northern Muslim politician and descendent of...

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Indigenous Polities

A diverse range of indigenous polities existed in the region before British colonialism, including several large and developed states in the north (including the Hausa state of Kano, Katsina, Zaria, and Gobir; the Kanem-Borno Empire; and the Jukun states of Kwararafa, Kona, Pinduga, and Wukara). Some 200 ethno-linguistic groups were found in the Middle Belt, which held roughly one-third of the population of northern Nigeria at the time of independence (covering the provinces of Adamawa, Benue, Plateau, Niger, Ilorin, Kabba, and the south of Zaria and Bauchi).

The south was also...

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Indigenes

Indigenes are people who can trace their roots back to the community who originally settled in a given location. Anyone who cannot do so is considered a non-indigene, a settler or an “allogene.” The concept took root in the 1979 Nigerian Constitution, and although not expressly supported in the 1999 constitution, it has continued to be a factor in state and national policy.

The principle behind the concept of “indigenity” was to guarantee ethnic parity in education and employment opportunities and to preserve traditional ways of life for Nigeria’s numerous minority groups. But...

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Boko Haram

Boko Haram is a militant Islamist organization whose main target is the secular Nigerian government, although its victims are largely Muslims in Nigeria's north. Boko Haram means “Western Education is forbidden” in the Hausa language, reflecting a teaching of the early Boko Haram leader Muhammad Yusuf, who maintained that western-style education and holding government jobs are religiously forbidden under Islam. The group’s Arabic name is Ahl al Sunna li al Da’wa wa al Jihad, which can be translated as “Salafis/Sunnis for Calling People to Islam and Engaging in Jihad.”

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The Republic of Biafra

The Republic of Biafra was a secessionist state at the center of a bloody three year civil war from 1967 to 1970, waged against the Nigerian government, and named for an Atlantic bay in southwestern Nigeria known as the Bight of Biafra. The leader of the secessionist movement was Igbo General Emeka Ojukwu, who had served as the regional governor prior to the outbreak of the war, and had both loyalty from the population and significant control over the media.

The war was prompted by several events. First, northern and western Nigerians perceived that a 1966 coup led by Roman...

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